by Patrick Matthews
The day was perfect. I emerged from the Caldecott Tunnel high up above Berkeley, with the entire San Francisco Bay spread out before me. This was one of those wonderful October days when the sky was blue all the way to the horizon beyond the Golden Gate Bridge — not a wisp of fog in sight. Continuing across the Bay Bridge and into the City, it was only going to get better, because I was going to Golden Gate Park to see the San Francisco Model Yacht Club’s “Year End Boat Float” (aka “Wood Boats on Parade”).
Born in 1898, the SFMYC is well known for its fleet of old time free-sail yachts, but is also home to wide variety of R/C yachts and power boats. The club operates on Spreckels Lake in the park, which was purpose-built for model yachting.
The Power group was hosting this float, which was designed to be a relaxing and noncompetitive event to wrap up the year’s activities. Parades and demonstrations were the order of the day, and the only judge in sight was running the water polo demonstration with the little Springer Tugs.
Not to say that there weren’t any prize winners here. From gleaming mahogany to well weathered work boats, and with motivation ranging from high-powered gasoline engines to live steam, some of the finest workmanship on the West Coast was on display beneath the park’s eucalyptus trees.
John Garis brought just one of the many splendid cabin cruisers on display, but his rig always gets the most attention. Beautiful inlaid woodwork catches the eye first, but the launching process adds to the fascination. An R/C truck backs the boat and its trailer down a ramp into the water. The boat is powered by a four cylinder gasoline engine which is electrically started via radio control. The variable-pitch prop is engaged in reverse, and the model backs away from the ramp. After running about the lake for a bit, John brings the boat back to the trailer, reversing the whole process. The show is always good for a round of applause.
Keith Marsh and Tom LaMantea brought their two similar but unique towboats, “Snake River” and “Chattahoochee”, and a pair of well-weathered barges to work around the lake. The towboats are scratch built and operate under the old “Red Stack Tug” colors of Crowley Marine. Both have all the grime and clutter expected on a busy workboat, and Tom goes the extra distance with a display cradle that depicts a bustling boat yard.
The biggest draw of the day was provided by the fleet of Monterey Clippers. These quaint fishing boats can still be found at places such as Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Double-ended and with Mediterranean bloodlines, these boats were built by eye — all similar, and each one different. Rigged variously for crabbing and salmon trolling, and with a small single cylinder (or”one lunger”) engine somewhere under the compact pilot house, these boats allowed immigrant Italian fishermen to work the bay waters in all weather. The model Clippers are built as large as 1:6 scale, nearly five feet in length.
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